My name is Kashmiere Narie Dotson. I studied Afro-Brazilian Culture and Portuguese in Bahia, Brazil as a Gilman Scholar in 2017. I am now serving as a Gilman Alumni Ambassador and Digital Representative for the 2021-22 cohort year. The Gilman Scholars community has been a caring and supportive family for me. The love that my Gilman family has shown me fuels my commitment to give my best as a representative of our community. Most of all I hope that by sharing my journey as a past Gilman Scholar other scholars and applicants are inspired to make the best out of their experiences.
In 2017, I was awarded the Gilman Scholarship to study abroad in South Africa. However, as God would have it the program in South Africa was canceled at the last minute and the only study abroad program at Spelman College still accepting applications was a program in Bahia, Brazil. Unbeknownst to me, God had character forming experiences waiting for me in Bahia. The challenges I underwent while there helped me cultivate skills in basic Portuguese, independent travel, documentary, discernment, and forgiveness. The confidence I developed in my identity as a result of my time abroad would help me make bold academic and career decisions later on.
Skills and Personal Connections
I attribute much of my personal and spiritual growth to my willingness to be uncomfortable while studying abroad. Being immersed in the unfamiliar caused me to lower my guard and expand my way of thinking. Notably, my comprehension of the power of language in relation to identity increased. I noticed a positive correlation between language acquisition and my sense of freedom and belonging. The more Portuguese I learned and practiced the more freedom and sense of belonging I experienced. A great example of this phenomena was the development of my independent travel skills. As I mastered basic Portuguese I was able to navigate Bahia better by myself, and quite frankly, I enjoyed the cultural immersion I was able to achieve when traveling independently versus in a group. Blending in was freedom. The group activities in my program were very informative and fun, but our interactions with presenters, activists, school children, and so on were always layered with the knowledge that we were North American students from Spelman College, which I sometimes perceived as a barrier in authenticity.
I carried a camera everywhere to document my experience. This too affected how I navigated and spoke to people. One of the first Portuguese phrases I learned was “Posso tirar uma foto“ meaning “ Can I take a picture?”. I was able to capture emotion through my lens. I created the short documentary Minha Experiência Brasileira (2018), as my follow-on service project. Watching it causes me to experience those emotions all over again.
I believe the questions about Black identity and language I began to ponder while studying abroad sparked my creative and theoretical mind. As my senior thesis project I chose to explore the Black Woman identity in Atlanta, Georgia through photovoice. As a part of my project Black Women were given the space to talk boldly about their interpretations of Black Womanhood and the thought process behind their photographic representations of the identity. Academically, with this thesis project, I would win first place in Sociological Research at the 2018 Spelman College Research Day. I would also go on to earn the Sociology departmental honor of Best Interdisciplinary Thesis. My study abroad experience helped me to identify storytelling through images, interviews, film, field research and so on as what I wanted to do as a career. I want to be a positive force helping others to tell their stories.
My aspirations of becoming a polyglot were born in Bahia. I saw how many racial and ethnic categories were recognized in Brazil when speaking about someone’s racial and ethnic identity. The multitude of words that existed to describe these parts of someone’s identity overwhelmed me. I wondered if my inability to fully express my identity using racial rhetoric was due to the confines of my native tongue. I then began a process of healing and forgiveness. I began to recognize and heal the wounds I had from being forced into a singular Black box and I began to forgive those who forced the box on me, recognizing they themselves probably felt confined and didn’t know the way out either. If nothing else, my experience as a Gilman Scholar in Bahia, Brazil helped me to identify and appreciate Blackness as a global experience with a multitude of meanings and not an all inclusive term. I could be Black and something else. My Blackness doesn’t cancel out everything else. Being multifaceted and complex is my superpower, it allows me to connect with a multitude of people and experiences!
This realization ignited my passion for researching and understanding Afro identities, expressions, and histories in other countries. This further highlighted the importance of me becoming a polyglot. In order to gather authentic stories I need to understand my participants native languages. My exploration of languages then led me to volunteer with Adult English Language Learners and earn my TEFL certification. I went on to apply and win a Fulbright English Teaching Apprenticeship in Columbia. Unfortunately, I was unable to participate in this adventure due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Nonetheless, my Portuguese and Spanish language studies would not go unused. I was invited by my study abroad program director to talk about teaching English during a multilingual networking event. This event connected me with another English teacher interested in teaching English from an African Diaspora perspective!
I currently work as a School Counselor at an Alternative High School which mainly serves Black and Brown students, many of which come from Spanish speaking households. In my current role I am able to speak Spanish daily and help my students magnify their voices, articulate their needs, and tell their stories through command of the English language. Validating and encouraging my students to use their multiple languages to navigate the world around them is important to me. Many of my students and I share the ability to seamlessly shift from street to professional English when necessary. This ability is power! I want my students to name this multilingual power they possess and use it to their advantage. The best part of being a School Counselor is exposing my students to different perspectives and opportunities. Likewise, my students introduced alternative ways of thinking to me.
In the near future, I plan to publish my thesis research with updated interviews. I will continue my pursuits in Higher Education. I want to find a Ph.D. program that will suit my Interdisciplinary research and storytelling styles. I also have considered missionary work as a possibility in my near future.
For the current and future Gilman Scholars my advice is to embrace the uncomfortable; this is where we grow. If you aren’t growing you very well may be dying. Take the risk, speak to someone and try to connect, you never know what someone has to offer. It could be exactly what you have been searching for. Be sure to collect the names, numbers, and emails of the amazing people you meet. This includes program directors. You never know who will want to collaborate with you in the future. Use the Gilman Scholar Network!